|Irish Health Minister Dr. James Reilly|
The abortion debate in Ireland gathered pace here last week as the outlines of what the government has in mind began to emerge. The proposals are so ridiculous they are laughable.
We've always been known as the island of saints and scholars. To that should now be added the word hypocrites.
There are two main areas of concern about what is emerging. The first is that there appears to be no proposal to alter the present framework in which abortion is only permissible here when there is a "substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother."
In other words, because our Constitution gives a fetus a right to life equal to that of the mother, a pregnant woman has to be in real danger of dying before an abortion can happen here.
Of course this is merely theoretical for the vast majority of the thousands of Irish women every year who choose to have an abortion. They turn their backs on the hypocritical mess we have created in the island of saints and scholars and go to Britain for an abortion.
But it is a serious problem in the small number of cases where a pregnancy becomes a health crisis and a woman finds herself in an Irish hospital with no choice because of the legal situation here. These cases, in extremis, can lead to tragedy as we have seen with Savita Halappanavar, the Indian woman who died in a Galway hospital last October after being refused a termination.
As far as we know, there is no proposal from the government for legislation to clarify and extend the definition of what is a "substantial risk" that would allow an abortion.
How sick does a woman have to be? If a woman herself feels seriously ill or feels her condition is worsening, should she have the right, with her doctors, to make a decision about a termination?
At present, she has no voice in the decision, no right. It is solely a decision for doctors.
And the government proposals, as far as we know, do nothing to change this. Instead, they continue to rely on the Medical Council here to issue advice to doctors defining the circumstances in which they can act.
The problem is that without clarity in the legal framework, there is no way that either the Medical Council or individual doctors can know. This is the situation, combined with a lot of incompetence, that killed Savita.
Nothing in the government's proposals will change that. A woman will only be able to get an abortion here on medical grounds if her life is at "substantial risk."
Nothing short of a referendum to reverse the 1980s constitutional amendment will enable a change in the law to alter this situation, and
Taoiseach (Enda Kenny) has ruled out another abortion referendum.
That also means, of course, that a woman's right to choose does not exist here no matter what her condition or circumstances. The personal circumstances of a pregnant woman who wants an abortion cannot be taken into account here, as they are in other countries.
In other jurisdictions, this consideration can culminate in a decision based on whether the continuation of an unwanted pregnancy may harm a woman's well being or make her suicidal.
If a woman feels unable to continue with a pregnancy for personal reasons, and there is a possibility that she may self-harm if she is forced to continue, she is given a termination. The rigor with which such an assessment is made varies between countries.
In some countries, a woman merely has to state that she does not want to continue with a pregnancy and she is given an abortion as a matter of right.
It is this aspect of the debate that is most contentious here. The government is determined that there will be no "abortion on demand" here and that a threat of suicide will not be used to open the door to that possibility.
The government has to act because it has been told by the European Court to clarify the circumstances in which women can have abortions in Ireland.
Our Supreme Court's interpretation of the constitutional amendment 30 years ago said that if there is a "substantial risk" to the life of a woman she is entitled to an abortion here.